R. Fink | Will the law tame Second Life, or vice versa?

The Packet Rat | Commentary: There's a new sheriff in Second Life's town

Packet Rat

Illustration by Michael J. Bechetti

Like all wild frontiers, the virtual world is finally seeing the arrival of the long arm of the law. Linden Labs, the company that runs the Second Life virtual world, is now suffering the scrutiny that comes with popularity.

First came the marketers and the journalists. Reuters actually maintains a bureau in Second Life. So it was inevitable that virtual federal agents would eventually come to the grid, like Eliot Ness coming in to clean up Prohibition-era Chicago, though perhaps with a little more subtlety. Of course, Eliot Ness could appear in Second Life, and someone would hit him with a watermelon gun or something.

And so, the hammer has fallen. Linden Labs recently announced that it was shocked ' shocked! ' to find gambling in its establishment and that, at the encouragement of the FBI, it was banning virtual casinos and sports bookies from its servers.

Some Linden residents who had been making a virtual buck or two ' which can be converted into fewer virtual bucks at an exchange rate similar to that of Argentine pesos to U.S. dollars, by the virtual wheelbarrowful ' were upset about the lack of warning for the new policy of actually adhering to U.S. law.

'Apparently, what happens in Second Life no longer stays in Second Life,' the Rat smirked. 'I guess I'm going to have to shut down my virtual rum-running business.'
Of course, the Rat has seen this coming for a while. He knew that the winds were changing when he got a late-night call from an old acquaintance at a certain agency. 'So, I was reading your blog,' the old spook started.

This immediately made the Rat feel uncomfortable as he tried to remember anything that he wouldn't want someone in his friend's profession reading.

'Oh really?' the whiskered one replied. 'Was it my post about making the ratatouille from the movie, 'Ratatouille'? Whoever did the food consulting on that film was a genius''

'No, not that one,' the slightly muffled voice replied, 'though that recipe you found was amazing. No, this is about this Second Life thing. We need your advice. It seems whenever we send someone in undercover to look at the place, to observe the populous, somebody puts our agent in a box or a cage and hurtles them away or something.'

'Oh, they get 'orbited,' do they?' the Rat grinned, slipping into Second Life Residentese. 'That's the Second Life way of saying, 'Go away kid, you bother me.' Your'er'agents are probably having a hard time integrating into the local culture.'

The cyberrodent signed on to Second Life and met up with his spook friend in an out-of-the-way 'sim' far from the prying eyes of potential crimebusters. 'See, I can see your problem already,' the wirebiter typed. 'You're using the generic avatar that comes with the free account. You've gotta get some tattoos, blue hair and some wings or something, or nobody will ever think you're normal. They'll instantly assume you're either a noob or someone planning on harassing them.'

'See, that's great!' replied his acquaintance, whose account name was FederalAgent Hammerer. 'Any other advice you could give so I don't stick out like a sore thumb?'
'Oh, I can think of a few,' the Rat typed, smiling.

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